A pilot educational programme targeting primary and middle schools across Northumberland and Tyne & Wear has introduced over 2,000 youngsters to the landscapes, history and habitats of Northumberland National Park.
The Sill: National Landscape Discovery Centre Partner Schools Programme combined classroom learning with a range of workshops connected to nature, history, arts and conservation.
The sessions were delivered both in school and within the National Park by a dedicated team at the National Park Authority, and have led to the development of a learning programme open to all schools.
The programme has been made possible by National Lottery players as part of a £7.8m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).
Following research around the National Curriculum, the Partner Schools Programme utilised Northumberland National Park’s landscapes to provide enhanced learning opportunities to schools from rural and urban locations across the region. The sessions were designed to connect and inspire a new generation of landscape and nature enthusiasts.
Eight schools volunteered to work with the National Park to develop the pilot sessions; this development work was sponsored by the Sir James Knott Trust through a £10k donation. The initiative forms part of Northumberland National Park Authority’s pledge that every child from a school in the county has an opportunity to visit the National Park as part of their education. Teachers also benefitted through a CPD workshop designed as part of teacher training.
Rachel Baron, Sill Learning Officer, explains: “Research suggests that by participating in learning outside the classroom, pupils and students can achieve improved outcomes, such as higher levels of achievement, motivation, personal development and self-confidence.
“Learning through contact with the natural word is powerful and enduring. We have some of the best landscapes and natural and cultural heritage on our doorstep in Northumberland, which should inspire and enrich our young people’s learning. The educational and personal development benefits to youngsters connecting with the outdoors are limitless so we need to get connected.”
The eight partner schools which took part in the pilot stage of The Sill Partner Schools Programme were Branton Primary in Alnwick, Broomley First School in Stocksfield, Greenhaugh First School, Harbottle Primary School, Hawthorn Primary School in Newcastle, Hexham Middle School, Northburn Primary School in Cramlington and Shaftoe Trust Academy in Haydon Bridge.
Zoë Ryan, Headteacher at Branton Community Primary School and Breamish Valley Nursery, said: “As a small rural school we look for ways to enhance our curriculum for all our children, the Rivers project we did as part of the Sill Partnership Schools programme, was fully inclusive of all the different ages of children we have at Branton.
“The project culminated in a fantastic day at Bulby's Wood in the Breamish Valley. The National Park’s Rangers planned an amazing series of activities which were both informative and enjoyable. These included river dipping to learn about the ecology of the River Breamish and boat races to measure the rate of flow of the river. Our pupils were challenged and supported and this resulted in a deepening of their knowledge and a greater understanding of our local river.”
Gill Woodward, Headteacher at Shaftoe Trust Academy in Haydon Bridge, said: “We were delighted to be part of the pilot group of schools helping Northumberland National Park develop their vision of engaging children in the many aspects of this amazing landscape.
“We have a long tradition at Shaftoe of getting children out and about in the local area and this provided and excellent opportunity to further develop that work. The activities with the National Park rangers were extremely well thought through, and there was a very good balance of learning about aspects of the landscape and its history, through to lots of practical tasks and experiences.
“The children and staff were all inspired by their encounters with National Park experts on such topics as cup and ring marks or rock formations and the work back at school complimented the visits. The children and staff learnt new skills and the visits taught them about an area of the country which is on our doorstep, which they have often taken for granted. We can't wait for our next visit, whatever the weather!”
As a result of the Partner Schools Programme, The Sill: National Landscape Discovery Centre now offers a diverse range of sessions for all schools to access. They include investigating wildlife habitats and learning about animals that live in the Park, river investigations using science to get hands-on and learn how rivers shape the landscape and studying the physical history and communities of the Park.
Rosie Thomas, Head of Business Development at Northumberland National Park Authority, said: “It is fair to say that we are delighted with the success of The Sill Partnership Schools pilot programme and the enthusiasm it’s received from the eight schools who volunteered to work with us to develop it. Ultimately, it’s our aim to use the National Park’s amazing landscapes, historical, cultural and wildlife assets to inspire a new generation of landscape and conservation enthusiasts and custodians.
“The next step is to build on the success of the pilot initiative working with more schools during the next two years to create strong working relationships in the teaching community and ensure every aspect is highly relevant and engaging to meet the needs of the schools and guarantee the best educational and personal outcomes for their pupils.”